People with learning disabilities need extra services but get access to less

  • NHS Confederation study shows that people with learning disabilities or autism struggle to access mental health services.

    A study by the Mental Health Network of the NHS Confederation has found that people with learning disabilities or autism struggle to access the services they need, despite having more mental health needs than average person.

    The research found instances of where some local mental health services improved equal access, but found that this is not common practice and there are areas where service users reported insufficient adjustments had been made.

    The briefing launched from this study, Equally accessible?, calls on providers and commissioners of mental health services to look at this problem and suggests:

    • health checks at GP surgeries include a mental health assessment as a matter of routine
    • appointment times and duration, and the format of inpatient services, be adjusted to better suit the needs of people with autism or a learning disability, including how they cope in unfamiliar environments
    • information about mental health services be made available in a variety of accessible formats, including large print, and easy read.

    Paddy Cooney, Interim director of the Mental Health Network, said:

    The law is already perfectly clear on this. Public sector bodies are legally obliged to make reasonable adjustments to make sure their services are as accessible and effective for people with any protected characteristic, including learning disabilities or autism.

    But our researchers found that while there are some excellent examples of where mental health services are helping people with a learning disability or autism, these are not yet common across England.

    It is the 21st century and with today's technology, we can share information and good practice in a split second. What we must do is make sure that the best practice, which currently exists in pockets of England,  becomes standard across the country.

    No matter where a person with autism or a learning disability lives - whether it's Cornwall or Cumbria - they need to know they are guaranteed the same level of access to mental health services as everyone else in their community.

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